One of the things I most enjoy about teaching project management (PM) is the deeper knowledge of the field I get when students share their insights. A while back I asked my Franklin University PM students to write a brief essay answering this question: “Assume you are one of the guest authors for the e-book “One Simple Thing to Improve Projects or Project Management“…..what would be your ‘One Simple Thing?'”
Now this is one of my favorite questions to ask of everyone who’s been involved in project work or PM. It triggers their “wisdom filters” as they sift through all the projects they’ve worked on (good and bad) to find that one simple thing. And best of all, it helps them clarify their own deeply held PM values. So it’s always enlightening to hear what people come up with.
This time one of the students in the class included this in her essay (my bold added): “… The common issue among all the projects is that the person in charge does not have one bit of understanding when it comes to the job and the job tasks. This is because the boss does not take the time to understand…” Seeing this posted on the discussion board, another student responded with this: “…I’m always a ‘worker bee’… so I am often frustrated when the person dictating resource allocation and timeline does not understand the work that must be done.” Reacting to this comment, the first student elaborated with: “… People really do not spend the time talking. [We have] a McDonald’s drive-through mentality. I think it is time we all learn to take a step back and talk about it before we move on to the next thing.”
The Origins of “Ready, Fire, Aim” Decision Making
Now this interchange got me thinking about all the “Ready, Fire, Aim” decision making I’ve seen in my career. Overloaded with tasks and projects, project managers struggle to keep up with it all. And they inevitably cut corners — frequently satisfying themselves with a superficial awareness (as opposed to deeper, nuanced comprehension) of what those “worker bees” really do. It’s unlikely that any project manager will take time to make that “deep dive” into the details of the work done by all the specialists on the team.
And beyond the sheer magnitude of the work load, there’s the the problem of something that might be called “focus interruptus.” I’ve written about this before in “Managing People with Self-Induced ADHD (er… Chronic Multitaskers).” This problem is pervasive and becoming worse every day. In her New York Times Book review of Douglas Rushkoff’s new book Present Shock, Janet Maslin writes: “… we are stuck with ‘a diminishment of everything that isn’t happening right now — and the onslaught of everything that supposedly is.’ …Your new boss isn’t the person in the corner office; it’s the P.D.A. in your pocket.”
For project managers, the net result of this fragmented consciousness is a choppy, incomplete awareness of reality that is simply an inadequate framework for good PM decision making. In this context, decisions are made based on hazy impressions and a jumble of random mental snapshots rather than a full, robust knowledge of job tasks, team roles, and subtle, work-related distinctions that would sharpen decision-making.
Your PM Challenge: Make the Time to Understand
In his classic The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey identifies Habit 5 as, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” In other words, Covey’s effective people withhold judgment — withhold their decision-making — until they have a solid understanding of what the other person is all about. So an effective project manager, in Covey’s terms, would never put together a work plan or make work task-related decisions without a complete comprehension of the work itself and the people doing it. (See my related blog post/audio podcast Listen, Understand, Collaborate.)
So how about it, project manager? Is it time you unplugged and locked yourself in a quiet room with your key team specialists to do that deep dive into what they really do for a living? … to ask them which of your choices, large and small, are getting in the way of their effectiveness? Is it time you shifted from “Ready, fire, aim!” to “Seek first to understand…?”